Our first chick

I took this photo of Princeville’s first chick yesterday.  Mom was spending most of her time sitting on the chick to keep him warm.  A chick cannot thermoregulate when he first hatches.

K407 and her chick

The first egg in Princeville was laid by K407.  She and her mate, KP531, nested across a yard from his former mate, KP467, who is with a male who nested in Princeville back in the 1993-1994 season, KP424.  At some point after 1994 he moved to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and found a mate there.  But every year before returning to the refuge he would stop in Princeville for a few days, not interacting much, just hanging out.

One year his mate failed to return to the refuge, and KP424 moved back to Princeville.  By that time, KP467 and KP531 had split up.  KP424 had met other females, but KP467 was the one he chose to be his mate, and the feeling was mutual.

Often when an albatross couple splits up, there are no hard feelings.  The fact that former mates nest in the same yard would seem to indicate that nobody holds a grudge.  It is all very civilized.

When I returned to the nest today, Papa was on the chick.  When he stood up I grabbed this photo.


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Albatross fight!

I went to check on a nest in an empty lot.  In the front yard next door, a scene from the never-ending  albatross soap opera was playing out.

Some people see albatrosses as being like perfect little people.  They mate for life, they put on elaborate displays with other albatrosses, they take good care of their chicks.  There is not much aggression going on in their world, they seem to get along with each other with very few problems.  But over the years I have watched many albatross fights.  I have seen one albatross flip another off his feet.  They chase, they bite, they scream.  Sometimes I can feel the tension growing, I can see one albatross staring at another with sudden intensity.  At other times, it is a complete surprise when one bird suddenly turns and attacks another.

In this film, an unbanded bird was doing a bit of a friendly bill duel with the bird sitting to the left.  A bill duel is often a social introduction, an interaction between albatrosses who do not know each other very well.  The bird on the left, K897, seemed larger than the other two birds, so I thought of the group as being composed of a male and two females.  I could be wrong, of course.  To accurately determine sex, a DNA test must be done.

Another albatross came and sat in the front.  She did not seem to know what to do, so she started poking the bird on the left to get his attention.  He started looking left and right, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do, who he should interact with.  Finally he just got up and walked away.  The intruder decided to follow him.

That was too much for the unbanded one.

The bird who was attacked was wearing a yellow leg band, which is not one that is used on Kauai or Oahu.  I sent the information to the USGS Bird Banding Lab to see where she was banded.  I will post the information.

I have never seen this albatross before.  She needs to learn about the social niceties here to avoid another attack.  Obeying the rules of albatross ettiquette is an important part of life in any albatross community.  It just might save a bird from a thumping.





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Update on Bad Mama

I stopped by Bad Mama’s nest yesterday to see what was happening.  When I got there she was sitting about 6 feet from the nest.  As soon as she saw me, she ran over to the nest, like a naughty child who was feeling guilty.  Perhaps she was actually protecting it from me, I cannot read her mind.

Her mate will come back and incubate the egg.  Last year, he stayed there until the egg broke, about 3 weeks.

Stay away from my abandoned egg!

When I start my albatross dating service, you can be sure that Bad Mama’s mate will be at the top of my list.  I will not even collect any squid from him for my hard work.  He deserves a freebie.

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How not to incubate an egg

This is the Bad Mama Technique.  It never seems to result in a chick.

A young male built this beautiful nest, then abandoned it.  In his defense, he had never nested before.  With some of these birds it takes a while to learn the right way to do it.

A beautiful nest, but no parent!

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As of today, I have seen about 150 albatrosses in Princeville, and we have 45 nests.

Of these 45 nests, 19 are female/female.  That is approximately 42%.

How do I know that some of the couples are two females?  Either this season or in previous years there were two eggs at the nests of these 18 couples.  An albatross can only lay one egg, which means that there had to be two females at the nest.

An albatross cannot incubate two eggs.  Yesterday I was going to remove a second egg that was interfering with KP894’s ability to keep one warm enough to survive.  She and her partner have never had a fertile egg, so it was doubtful that even this egg removal would help, but there is always hope.  I was unable to take the egg because she turned into a fire-breathing dragon and tried to kill me. Some people think that these birds must recognize me and have special feelings for me.  Most of the time I am just part of the scenery to them, but occasionally when I get too close, they let me know that they would really rather not share their world with me.  That’s fine with me, wild animals are usually better off if they do not trust human beings.

One of the female/female couple always builds their nests uncomfortably close to the golf course driving range.

Too close to the driving range!

There will be more nests to come, and there will eventually be chicks at some of them.  Last year about one third of the couples that had nests had healthy chicks that fledged from Princeville.  It is an honor to help them, even if my help is shockingly underappreciated.


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How to let a male albatross know that he should shove off

When bluKP226, Gator, started following half of a female/female couple around my street, this is what she did:

  1. She stopped and faced him.
  2. She spread her wings out so she seemed to be much larger than Gator.
  3. She lifted her bill into the air, thereby increasing her height.
  4. She screamed.  She is woman, hear her roar!

Gator turned around and walked briskly back to my neighbor’s front yard.  He was able to jump another female, also part of a female/female couple, and I hope that the couple chooses to incubate the egg that he fertilized.  We need more chicks; males like Gator are willing to do their part.  We have so many female/female couples in Princeville, and every season they waste many hours patiently sitting on infertile eggs.  Given the chance, they always show good mothering skills.  So I say, “Thank you, Gator, for your contribution to the future of this species.”

Such a forward-thinking bird!

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How many albatrosses have returned so far?

The albatrosses are drifting in one by one.  The same thing happens every year; it seems as though there just aren’t as many birds as there usually are.  So I sit down and count all of the ones I have seen.  As of yesterday….


We have three eggs so far.  Unfortunately, the first one was Bad Mama’s, the bird who always abandons her eggs.  Her poor, beleaguered mate, KP515, was faithfully executing his dad duties by taking the first shift.  Who knows, perhaps Bad Mama will surprise us all and raise her chick.  But as one person said, “Do we really want to spread those genes around?” This is one of the many things we do not really know about these birds.  Could a proclivity towards egg abandonment be inherited?  Or did she possibly suffer some type of brain injury?  Or are both possible?

The other two nests have parents that will faithfully execute their duties.  There are many more nests to come, undoubtedly.  I look forward to finding each one.

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Circle the bird that does not belong

Just don’t tell HIM that he doesn’t belong!

The golf course gang

The white bird at the top of the picture is a snow goose who usually hangs out with the local nenes.  No, people, this is NOT an albino nene.  I do not know how long this bird has been on Kauai, but I have been seeing him for at least 5 years.

The albatross eventually chased the nenes away, but not the snow goose.  Perhaps he is prejudiced in favor of this color combination.  More likely, he goes after the locals because the nenes can sometimes turn into a pushy little goose gang that a well-bred albatross finds offensive.

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One by one, they return to Princeville

We have more of our nesters back.  KP531 met up with his mate, K407.  They have raised chicks in the same backyard where KP531’s former mate now nests with a male who used to return each year to a mate at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.  K407 left her former mate, another female, to nest with K531 a few years ago.  Her previous mate now nests in the frontyard with another female.

No hard feelings, they all get along just fine.

Two years ago Beckett and his mate  raised a chick in the middle of the golf course.  Last year they were not so fortunate.  They incubated an egg, but the chick died during the hatching process.  Beckett’s younger sister is Georgia Gooney, who may be known to people who watched the nests on the Cornell webcam.  Their mother is nesting with another female across the street from the part of the golf course where Beckett nests.

Here’s hoping that Beckett and his mate raise a healthy chick this year.

Bad Mama is back.  She is the one who  abandons her egg every year.  I always hope her mate will find someone else to try to raise a chick with.  A couple of seasons ago I was observing some adult albatrosses on the golf course, and Bad Mama’s mate,KP515, landed nearby and walked towards them.  Sadly, they all chased him away.  Why?  Every year new birds join the group over there.  Why not him?  Since that incident, I have never seen him anywhere but near the area where he nests with Bad Mama.  There is a female across the street from him, blueKP216, whose mate failed to return a couple of seasons ago, and she raised her chick by herself for quite a long time.  She would be the perfect mate for KP515.  If I ran a matchmaking service for albatrosses, I would definitely introduce them to each other.  Unfortunately, he will undoubtedly stay with his aptly named mate and relive the moment when he returns to his nest to find the egg abandoned.

Larry is also here, waiting for his mate, Dora.  Last year they had an egg that broke.  The season before, Larry abandoned the nest.  But in the 2015-2016 season, they raised their chick Hakari successfully.  Good luck to them!  Larry is the bird who was named after a Sears repair man who has since retired.  I think it is an honor to have a chick named after you.

Larry awaits Dora’s arrival

One last happy landing….Mr. Clackypants has arrived!  June’s father, Hope’s grandfather, is again where he belongs, in his favorite backyard.  Now those of us who have a special place in our albatross memories for him will be awaiting the arrival of Mrs. Clackypants, his long-time mate.  Both birds are at least in their early thirties, they were banded over 30 years ago.  We do not really know how long they live, there is no physiological test that can determine the age of an albatross.  That is something that only years of observation can help to determine.

More albatrosses have arrived, and I will share some of their stories as the days go by.





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The two newest returnees

KP531 has been nesting in Princeville for at least as long as I have been observing the albatrosses.  His favorite nesting area is not far from where the female with whom he raised several chicks likes to nest with her new mate.  I am always glad to see the experienced nesters get back safely, and I will be happy to see his mate return to him.

BluKP226, Gator, is 12 years old.  His father is Great-grandpa Joseph, the patriarch of our neighborhood.  Joseph is at least 33 years old; he was banded as an adult at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.  He and two other old-timers, Mr. and Mrs. Clackypants, all nest in the same yard.  My neighbors run an albatross senior citizens’ facility there.  No annoying young couples need apply!

Just kidding!  Bob and Marion would welcome young couples, but Joseph prefers not to share his bushes, and Mr. Clackypants can be downright surly when someone tries to nest on his lawn.

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